Jennifer Orkin Lewis

09/04/14

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You may recall that last year — about one year ago, to be exact — I did the first in a new series on my blog called Interviews with People I Admire. I posted one more interview the following month, and then POOF! No more. You know how these things go, don’t you? You have a great idea and then somehow life gets in the way? Well, I’m back at it, and I’ve decided to pick this series up again, this time in earnest. And so today I present to you Jennifer Orkin Lewis, otherwise known as Augustwren.

This series is really about people who are doing (making, painting, writing, designing, drawing) things that I think are super cool. And Jennifer Orkin Lewis is doing something really cool. She has a sketchbook project which is really unique and pretty much blows my socks off most days. I discovered her work (and her sketchbook) several months back on Instagram, and I am so glad it happened.

Jennifer is an artist and illustrator who lives outside New York City, and last year in 2013 she decided to paint in her sketchbook every day for the month of April. That project eventually led to painting in her sketchbook every day, with a few self imposed parameters (more about those in our interview). You know how I love a good daily project, right? Well Jennifer’s is destined to become legendary if she keeps it up. I’ve since befriended Jennifer on the Internet, and I’ve also found her to be incredibly kind and humble (two qualities I also admire); and I’m also excited to meet her when I am in New York City in a couple of weeks. Now for our interview!

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Lisa: Jennifer, I discovered your work on Instagram, and then the following day I saw your work in Uppercase Magazine. You post daily photos of paintings you make in your sketch book, which are so beautiful, by the way! I am so impressed by your discipline and the diversity of what you paint. How and when did this daily practice begin for you? Was it intentional (like you got up one day and decided to start painting in a blank book every day) or something that evolved more organically over time?

Jennifer: Thank you so much, Lisa, I’m so honored to be interviewed by you! I actually have wanted to do a daily project for many years but never quite figured out what that project would be. In April 2013, I decided to do a painting a day for the month. I didn’t put any restrictions on myself and I ended up spending hours each day on them. I finished out the month, but it was stressful. In May I did it again but my rules were that I would limit it to 1 hour and I would only paint food. I finished that challenge as well but I felt too tied down to that theme and I didn’t experiment enough. I picked up the sketchbook I’m using now last October and I started painting in it. Something clicked and I really liked how the paint went onto the paper, its size, the fact that it wasn’t a gorgeous sketchbook. I kept painting in it so when January came it just flowed that this would be my daily project. I decided to post them all on Instagram to hold myself accountable to painting everyday.

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Lisa: Since you began your daily paintings, how has your art practice changed? What do the daily paintings do for your creative practice and discipline?

Jennifer: I’ve definitely gained confidence, just knowing I can get up every day and produce something new. I’ve never really thought of myself as particularly disciplined, so I have surprised myself. I have loads of 1/2 finished sketchbooks on my shelves.  A great result from the practice is I now have hundreds of pages of personal reference material. I’ve gone into it to look for color combinations for projects, for the shape of a flower,  a technique.
I also have to say that all the amazing followers on Instagram and Facebook have been totally encouraging and that helps me keep the discipline up.

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Lisa: How long do they normally take? How much time do you spend each day painting in your sketchbooks? How many books have you painted in so far?

Jennifer: It is a 30 minute painting daily. That said, when I start the 30 minutes I usually know what I’m painting, my paints are out and ready and I’ve done a really quick pencil sketch.  (3 minutes tops) I usually finish the page in 20-30 minutes, using a timer. When it goes off I’m finished no matter how done I think it is. This is the first sketchbook I’ve ever even come close to finishing. I don’t ever want to stop now, I’m making up for lost time!

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Lisa:  I am so intrigued by your subject matter, and I love how sometimes you share next to your sketchbook what you used for reference. How do you decide what to paint each day?

Jennifer: This is by far the hardest part. Sometimes I wake up knowing exactly what I’m going to paint, a bouquet of flowers I just bought, a self portrait, a stylized face, bugs. It could be anything. Sometimes I sit down and pull out a book that inspires me and I look at it for a little while and I get an idea that feels right. I might pull out an old photo or a post card of a piece of art and I’m inspired to paint from that. I definitely have days though where I feel like I’ll never come up with an idea. Then I might pick 2 or 3 oddball colors and just paint flowers. The worst days are the ones where I feel I’m making a mess and I’m frustrated the whole time. I really look at the sketchbook as a place to experiment. It’s not meant to be perfect so I try not to worry about it too much.

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Lisa: In addition to sharing your reference, you often also share the materials you use alongside the sketchbook, which helps to how people how little you need to create a rich painting. What mediums and materials do you use in your daily paintings?

Jennifer: I primarily use gouache, but I’ll add acrylic, craft paints, pencil, gel pens. I paint directly onto the paper. Sometimes the painting bleeds through so I’ll just paint the next page a solid color and paint or draw over that. About 1/4 way through I started spraying them with fixative because they were rubbing off on one another. Now they stay pretty clean. The sketchbook is a $4.00 book from the Japanese store Muji. I want to start playing with other materials soon to mix it up a bit.

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Lisa: Tell us about how else you spend your days? You went to school for textile design. Do you still do that kind of work? What other illustration projects do you do?

Jennifer: This summer I was very busy illustrating a cake cookbook for Abrams books. It’s really fun, called Sitting in Bars with Cake. The publication date is next March. I’ve also been doing Lilla Rogers Bootcamp and just finished a terrarium piece of art for her Global Talent Search. I also license art for greeting cards and other products. My work tends to be very patterny, not surprising coming from my textile background but I’m not doing any actual fabric at this moment.

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Jennifer: What are your dream projects?

Lisa: Hmmm, I’d love to work with Anthropologie, I want to illustrate more books, and do some lifestyle editorial. I’d also love to have a gallery show. There are so many dreams. I also have always wanted to paint on ceramics. I don’t know where I can do that, I need to look into it!

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Thank you, Jennifer (aka Augustwren), for the lovely interview and for sharing your work & process! You can find Jennifer’s work here on her wesbite; you can follow her on Instagram (that’s the best place to follow her daily paintings); and you can follow her Facebook fan page here.

Next interview in this series coming soon: designer & photographer Troy Litten!

Have a great Thursday!

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Jaime Derringer

10/11/13

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Most of you know Jaime Derringer from her wildly popular blog Design Milk. But what you might not know about Jaime is that she is also a prolific and talented fine artist, who renders mostly abstract works, both on canvas and paper. Jaime and I have been friends for several years, and I was so excited when she began painting and drawing again in 2011 after a long hiatus. Her portfolio is both extensive and impressive. I am so impressed by Jaime’s constant creative prowess (at minimum she draws every single day, and paints as often as she can muster the energy) that I wanted to know both more about her process and how she manages her time. Jaime is also one of the warmest, smartest and most down-to-earth women I know. In the second of my interviews with people I admire, I present to you: Jaime Derringer!

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Lisa: You are the founder and editor of Design Milk, a mom to a toddler and a very prolific artist. How do you make time to make art each day?

Jaime: My time is very limited most days so making time for art every day is not easy. I challenged myself this year to draw A Shape A Day, which has kind of morphed into a drawing a day. I think I will be sad when it’s over, but also a little relieved. There are some days when I am tired and don’t want to draw. I have a drawing routine most evenings while I watch TV with my husband. Now that Breaking Bad and Dexter are over, we’ve caught up on Orange is The New Black and are now watching House of Cards in between our regular sitcoms and shows. Sometimes we watch terrible reality TV. Most of my drawings are somewhat repetitious, so there is room in my brain to absorb what’s going on with my shows and still pay attention to what my hands are doing but without the need to focus 100% on either.

When it comes to painting, I am very bad about fitting it in. Sometimes I will paint three paintings in one day and then not touch any paint for weeks, other times I lazily approach it painting a little bit here and a little there. Painting feels like much more of an effort to me and sometimes I think I’d rather be drawing… but every once in a while I get a spark. However, I have a feeling that I need to gain a better understanding of how to make paintings. I think there’s a process that I’ve yet to discover. Still waiting for my “ah-ha” moment.

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Lisa: You work in two different mediums and styles (and sometimes mix them): one is intricate line work and one is more painterly abstract painting. What do you get from the experience of working in each style? Are there days you crave one more than the other?

Jaime: Drawing is my first love. There is something about the control I get with a marker or pen in my hand that I just don’t get with a paintbrush. However, I am a bit of a perfectionist, so the messiness of paint is sometimes just what I need to push me out of my comfort zone. I have yet to find the perfect way to bring them together, but I have been playing around with watercolor and drawing together, which seems to be a happy marriage.

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Lisa: You took a break from painting and drawing for a few years and then after your daughter was born, you had a strong desire to start creating again. Tell us about that experience and how you got back into making art after abandoning it for so long.

Jaime: I don’t know where the desire to create again came from but it was like a fever. Sometime in 2011, it hit me that I wanted to draw all day. I would spend the day working, fantasizing about the quality time I could spend with my sketchbook that evening. Between a house, a new baby, a website redesign, and no maternity leave or vacation, I think my brain decided to force me to take a break. The problem I have now is that I am on fast forward—I’ve become very athletic about it, which has made me quite prolific, but there is a downside. It’s like I am trying to cram years and years of not making anything into a short period of time; it’s very hard to focus and not always feel the need to quickly finish up one thing on order to try something new. However, I am trying to use this desire to experiment to help me work through some buried psychological issues—lots of fun stuff is happening inside this brain of mine!

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Lisa: What advice do you have for people who can’t seem to get into the groove of making art on a regular basis? Do you have any tips for breaking through anxiety or self doubt?

Jaime: I think the best thing I did was to start my Shape A Day project. It was one small thing I could commit to doing every day. It gave me the opportunity to be as simplistic or as complicated as I wanted. In other words, if I only had time to draw a simple circle one day, it would still be OK. But that doesn’t mean that you have to do something EVERY DAY. You could commit to making art every week. Or commit to doing a number of works like my friend Megan, who is doing 100 paintings. It’s the small things that lead to more. For example, I’d discover a shape or pattern from my shape series and that would spawn a whole new set of shapes and end up working its way into my larger pieces. Forcing yourself to make something is actually very good for you—not only does it prevent procrastination but also it allows you to make art without too much need for inspiration or thinking. Sometimes we get way too caught up in looking for inspiration, so much so that we don’t produce quantity and quantity is a more effective way to move past perfectionism and ultimately produce your best work. One of my favorite quotes from Chuck Close is “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” I often do my best work when I’m not thinking about it at all.

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I constantly struggle with anxiety and self-doubt. The way I moved past it was to put everything out there on the internet with no regrets but that’s not to say I am no longer feel self-critical. This isn’t the first time I’ve had a website with my art on it. Previously, I pulled it down because I wasn’t proud of it. However, I have discovered that the healthiest part of being an artist is being able to put it all out there, even my sketchbooks and my mistakes. This might not be right for everyone, but it has certainly helped me embrace my process. Moreover, I feel like it’s also starting to help with my perfectionist issues… only time will tell! I am glad I digitized all of it because I get a lot of joy in going back to older work and seeing how I have changed or noticing small nuances in my work that are still present today.

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If you love Jaime’s work as much as I do, you can purchase it here in her Etsy Shop or here in her Webshop. She also has work available on Art.com and on Society6. Jaime posts most of her paintings and drawings here on her Instagram feed. You can read her fabulous design blog here.

Happy Friday, and thank you to Jaime.

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Heavy Hangs the Head: Interview with Taryn Hipp

09/18/13

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About six months ago, my friend Taryn emailed and asked if I could illustrate the cover of her book. Yes, she was writing a book, and it was coming out soon, and she wanted me to design the cover. Taryn and I met online back in 2008. She had sent me a friend request on Facebook. We had mutual friends. I didn’t know who she was, but randomly, I accepted her friendship. I turned out to be one of the best random decisions I’ve ever made.

For the past five years Taryn has inspired me endlessly. Early in our friendship, she seemed to be going through something huge, but I didn’t know exactly what it was at the time. When you only know someone on Facebook, and you know very little about them, you begin to piece together information that will give you a fuller picture of who they are. I knew Taryn worked at a record store. I knew we had similar taste in music. I knew she had a biting sense of humor, and a very soft side too. Taryn intrigued me. Her posts on social media were brave and revelatory. She was, I came to find out a couple years into our friendship, leaving her old life — a life of fear and addiction — and declaring a new life for herself, a life filled with love and promise, sobriety, school, hopes, dreams, and, eventually, this book. Over the years we’ve gotten to know each other better. Since 2008, Taryn has become a fixture in my life. I am continually inspired by her humanity and honesty.

So, back to Taryn’s book. It’s called Heavy Hangs the Head, and you can see the cover I designed above. I am quite proud of it, though it was all Taryn’s vision. The book is a memoir. It’s about Taryn’s journey from anxiety-ridden child to delinquent teenager to divorced alcoholic to who she is today. In her own words, “Heavy Hangs the Head is my journey towards learning to overcome the things that hold me back & accepting that sometimes, it’s ok to not move at all.”

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{Taryn celebrates the launch of her book.}

I eagerly read Heavy Hangs the Head when it came out and realized immediately I had to interview Taryn about the book. It is a brave, gritty and honest memoir. As with most books I read, I had to know more. (Incidentally, this is the first in a series of interviews I’m going to be launching on this blog with artists and writers I admire. Stay tuned for more interviews over the next few months.)

Lisa: I love the title of the book so much — Heavy Hangs the Head — where does it come from?

Taryn: It’s actually a line from the movie Cry-Baby. The main character is crying over being heartbroken & her grandmother says, “Heavy hangs the head that last night wore the crown.” During my drinking days I went to sleep the queen of the prom only to wake up feeling exactly the opposite.

Lisa: Heavy Hangs the Head (to me) was much more about your search for stable ground. loving relationships and meaning in your life as much as it was a story about getting sober. For example, you don’t talk too much about the process of getting sober and what that was like, but you do talk a lot about your relationships and how they shaped your life. Tell us about how you decided what aspects of your journey to write about?

Taryn: When I started working on the book my goal was to give a little “back story” of my life and then write about getting sober but as I began to write I realized that the “little” back story was a huge part of why I was even writing the book. Everything that has happened in my life led me to this place, the good and the bad. It took me a long time to see that. I try to live without regrets and I think that my search for stable ground, as you say, has been and continues to be the driving force in my life. But it’s not just stable ground really, it’s more the ability to remain stable when the ground shakes. Ya know? Before I got sober I couldn’t do that. I would begin to lose my footing and immediately turn to alcohol to self-medicate. When I was going through my divorce I had this hole inside of me that ached constantly and it was accompanied by this terrible voice in my head that just wouldn’t stop making me miserable. The alcohol was able to “fix” both of those things. Obviously, it was more of a paper towel duct taped on a wound than a bandage but the process of writing the book was my bandage and the healing process has been extraordinary.

Lisa: You’ve written a lot of zines but never before a book! And you wrote it relatively quickly. You worked with a small press called Sweet Candy Press. How did the relationship with Sweet Candy begin? What was the writing process like for you as a first-timer? How did you get yourself to sit down and write?

Taryn: I’ve known Sage from Sweet Candy for a long time because of zines. When I mentioned I wanted to possibly write a book she was like “Yes, do it and I’ll put it out”–just like that. It happened so fast. We’re both really into self-publishing and the Do-It-Yourself way of life so it was a new experience for both of us. I had no idea how to write a book so I actually went to the library and checked out a dozen or so books about the subject (none of which I actually ended up reading because it just became too overwhelming). I “took the summer off” from school, and writing the book became my job. I had a routine that involved my porch and a lot of coffee and a dedicated amount of hours per day to writing. But the subject matter was so intense and sometimes really triggering that it became difficult to stick to my routine. I would go days without working on the book, finding other things that were suddenly way more important. Eventually Sage would step in and give me these epic pep talks that really helped get me back on track. I have no idea what big publishers are like but I doubt they answer text messages in the middle of the night with words of encouragement like “You can do this. I believe in you.”

Lisa: The book is really raw and really comes through in your voice, as if we are reading your journal. Was there an editing process? If so, what was it like? Or did you want to stay as true as possible to your voice?

Taryn: I am a zine maker. I am the first person to tell you that. I don’t know how to write a book. I only know how I wrote my book. The editing process was basically me writing for hours at a time for days and then putting it in a Google Doc and asking my best friend or my boyfriend to read it and tell me if it made any sense. A few times I felt like maybe the story was getting off track and I asked friends to give me their opinion or tell me what they wanted to know after reading what I had written so far. I didn’t really give anyone a choice though, it was more like “Read this. Is it totally stupid?” So, I had help throughout the entire process. Once the book was “finished” there were a few people who went through it and we made changes together. I didn’t want it to be in anyone’s voice but my own. No one could tell my story the way I needed it to be told and that’s why it reads like a zine because that’s how I write.

Lisa: What did you learn from writing this book? About yourself or the writing process? Any motivation to write another? What are you working on now?

Taryn: I joked last year that I was learning to be “more brave” by stepping out of my comfort zone and doing things I wouldn’t normally do. I think this book was the final step in that journey. Not everyone will enjoy the book or even care about the book but it exists to show the world that I could do it. My life got all mixed up a few years back, and I truly didn’t think I could get through it. Like, I sometimes will stop myself from being in a bummer mood and just remember where I was four years ago. Writing this book has given me a lot of perspective and it has shown me that it’s okay to be an emotional person, to seek out help, to be vulnerable.

I’m always writing. I actually put out a new issue of my zine, Lady Teeth while working on the book. There is another issue of that in the works also and I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction that may turn into a collection. I had an idea to write stories based on the women in my life and it sort of grew from that. I’m also back in school now that the summer is over so that keeps me pretty busy. I didn’t start college until I was 31. It was never something I really even considered but I’m so glad I did because I really enjoy it. I also think the fact that I am a Psych major had a lot to do with me writing a book like Heavy Hangs the Head. I’ve been approached about speaking to high school kids about my experiences with drugs and alcohol which is not something I had ever considered but I am excited about.

Lisa: If you could summarize the 2-3 people and/or circumstances that turned your life around, what would you say?

Taryn: I spent a long time being very angry at the world and feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t understand why certain things happened to me, and I felt like the whole world was out to get me. Eventually I had to realize that I was self-sabotaging and making excuses. My life sucked because I wasn’t doing what I needed to do to make it not suck. So when I got charged in 2010 for public drunkenness, that was a huge turning point for me. I began to heal and grow and gain perspective. My life has always been really special, I just never bothered to focus on anything but the negative which wasn’t just unfair to me but to the people who loved me. My book is dedicated to my sisters, Jennifer and Veronica and that’s because they have stood by and supported me through everything. They are the reason I am the woman I am today because they have loved me unconditionally, believed in me even when I didn’t, and never turned their back on me. That is something everyone deserves and once I realized that and embraced it, my life turned around and I started loving it.

You can purchase Heavy Hangs the Head here, where you can also check out & purchase Taryn’s awesome zine collection.

Happy Wednesday!

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